Climate crisis

Collective action or collective suicide: Lancet report warns of climate deaths

As delegates head off to COP27, report details 59% increase in energy demand but less than 1% decrease in carbon intensity of energy sector since 1994

05 November 2022 - 12:35
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Floods in KwaZulu-Natal wreaked havoc in many parts of the province earlier this year, highlighting the fact that the climate crisis is already happening and is not 'in the future'.
Crisis point Floods in KwaZulu-Natal wreaked havoc in many parts of the province earlier this year, highlighting the fact that the climate crisis is already happening and is not 'in the future'.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

As delegates head off to COP27, kicking off in Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday, the health community has thrown down the gauntlet.

They say the climate crisis is “undermining every dimension of global health” and we’re headed for a disaster unless radical action is taken urgently.

One day before COP27 kicking off, The Lancet has published a hard-hitting report based on in-depth analysis in 103 countries.

Known as the Lancet Countdown, the researchers found global systems on which our health rely are “increasingly fragile” because of the climate crisis and that already-vulnerable populations are under higher threat because of the coexistence of geopolitical, energy and cost-of-living crises.

An estimated 98-million more people experienced moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020 compared with the average across the 1980s and 90s up to 2010.

Another problem is that Covid-19 responses gobbled up vast amounts in funds earmarked for climate action.

In one third (239 of 798) of cities reviewed, funds available for climate action decreased and the researchers concluded that “health systems were drastically weakened by the effects of the pandemic”.

Also alarming is the fact that only 48 out of 95 countries have assessed their climate change adaptation needs, and only 63% of countries reported high to very high implementation status for health emergency management in 2021.

Yet, increasing adaptation to climate change “has the potential to simultaneously improve the capacity of health systems to manage both future infectious disease outbreaks and other health emergencies”.

The ongoing heavy reliance on fossil fuels is also flagged as a major crisis.

According to the report, the energy sector’s carbon intensity has decreased by less than 1% since a UN treaty was signed in 1994, and an “increase in energy demand of 59% increased total energy sector emissions to record high levels in 2021”.

Right now, renewables constitute only 2.2% of the total global energy supply.

A new indicator this year also reveals that oil and gas companies will radically overshoot their greenhouse emissions in relation to the Paris Agreement of keeping global warming within 1.5 degrees.

In the case of publicly-listed international companies, it would overshoot it by 87% by 2040 if they keep doing things the way they do them, and in the case of state-owned national companies it is 111%.

Louisa Baxter, from MSF and other experts, in a strongly worded response to the report, said humanitarian agencies are now seeing a multitude of problems that are “putting millions of people across the world at immediate risk of famine and death”.

They described the climate emergency as a “humanitarian and health crisis”. 

“Extreme weather events, heat stress, declining air quality, changes in water quality and quantity, declining food security and safety, and changes in vector distribution and ecology threaten all of us.”

They said that “as the planet heats, climate risks are increasingly complex, frequent, and unpredictable, compounding existing vulnerabilities and inequities within populations and causing emergencies that cascade across different systems and sectors.”

One of the most outspoken voices on the climate crisis ahead of COP27 has been António Guterres, UN secretary-general. 

In the lead-up to COP27, he told ministers from 40 countries the choice is between “collective action or collective suicide”.

He said, “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction.”

COP27 will run from Sunday until November 18.


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